Sisters Act: How 'Bob's Burgers' Writers Lizzie Molyneux-Logelin and Wendy Molyneux Make Their Comedy Partnership Work
All these years later, Wendy Molyneux still fondly recalls the best note she and the rest of the team over at Bob’s Burgers ever received from their network bosses. It was for “Art Crawl,” an early episode from Season One, in which Bob’s sad sister-in-law Gayle is showing off her suspect artistic talent, which is painting animals’ anuses. The stuffy old art-crawl overseers Edith and Harold aren’t pleased and, apparently, neither were the folks from Standards and Practices.
“We got a note that just said, ‘Please reduce the size of the mouse’s anus,’” Molyneux says, laughing. “It’s a treasure, an absolute treasure, that note. We still have it on a little printout.” Did the show give in and make the requested changes? With mock seriousness, Wendy’s sister Lizzie Molyneux-Logelin responds, “It was reduced slightly, but we kept the meaning behind it, and I think that’s what’s important.” Playing along, Molyneux adds, “You want to keep the intent of the anus. An anus goes through changes over a lifetime, but as long as you keep its spirit, you keep the spirit of the anus alive.”
Speaking over Zoom from Los Angeles, Molyneux-Logelin and Molyneux have been writing partners for years, but siblings even longer, sharing a comedic sensibility that’s seen them be one of the central creative voices on the beloved Fox animated series, as well as their own animated series, The Great North, which they co-created with Minty Lewis. It’s now evident in their first produced screenplay, The People We Hate at the Wedding, a feature-length comedy that debuts on Prime Video on November 18th.
Based on the hit novel by Grant Ginder, the film stars Kristen Bell and Ben Platt as sarcastic American siblings forced to attend their snooty British half-sister’s (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) wedding in London. (Allison Janney plays their long-suffering mother.) “We love wedding movies,” Molyneux-Logelin says. “There’s a bit of a romantic-comedy element in there. There’s a bit of a hard comedy. There’s a family movie in it. So, it spoke to a lot of the things that we like to watch ourselves — this is something that we would want to watch if we saw that it was out in theaters. We were just really drawn to it.”
Plus, as opposed to their animated network sitcoms, they got to be R-rated for once: The characters in The People We Hate at the Wedding swear and have sex and act like properly surly grownups. “It was definitely fun,” Molyneux-Logelin admits about the lack of language restrictions. “On Bob’s and Great North, I feel like we can get all the comedy we want without it. But there is that certain freedom (with the film) where you’re like, ‘I can just write “ding-dong” here and nobody’s going to flag it.’”
“I love to swear,” Molyneux adds. “I love it. I have four kids, and one time I was in (one) room and I heard my six-year-old in the other room go, ‘Goddamnit.’ It was so funny to me. The only thing I ever tell them is, ‘Don’t do it at school.’ None of them so far has gotten in trouble for swearing — I’m not talking about graphic swears or anything, and they don’t do it a lot. But it is very funny to me when they do it, because people being really strict about language drives me nuts.”
The sisters grew up in rural Indiana in a family with five children. (Molyneux is the second-oldest, Molyneux-Logelin is the baby of the group.) Their dad, who recently turned 76, is a retired engineer, while their mom is a former schoolteacher — and, Molyneux points out, “she worked in the home raising five children, which is very hard work.”
Was it a funny family? “It’s difficult to have that many people in one house and not have any sort of comedy going on because it’s usually complete chaos,” Molyneux-Logelin recalls. “If you’re serious all the time, everyone’s just going to be miserable. We had our own brand of comedy, I’d say. And as a family, we just liked watching TV, watching movies, watching funny things. The family in People We Hate at the Wedding felt similar to us where it’s like you have your little inside jokes, you have maybe the drama that’s going on — maybe someone’s annoyed with mom — that all felt very real to us. It was not the same type of shit as what happens in the movie, but I think that dynamic is very comfortable and familiar to us. When you just have that many people, there’s always something going on.”
Perhaps not surprisingly, then, Molyneux-Logelin and Molyneux have consistently worked on projects that are about complicated but ultimately loving families. Whether it’s Bob’s clan on Bob’s Burgers or Beef’s Alaskan brood on The Great North, people have their disagreements and differences, but they always come back together in the end. (I’ll avoid spoilers, but it’s safe to say The People We Hate at the Wedding doesn’t conclude with a Red Wedding.) Their projects tend to exude a sunny disposition to counterbalance what is sometimes unhappy and hard about the characters’ lives. (One reason people so respond to Bob’s Burgers, which was created by Loren Bouchard, is that, deep down, it’s a pretty honest look at a working-class family.) That glass-half-full quality is also apparent in these sisters, who enjoy riffing off each other during our conversation, and they’re not going to apologize for embedding that same attitude in their work.
“A tiny bit of hope or escapism is what we gravitate to,” Molyneux says. “Sometimes people make the mistake of being like, ‘Well, that’s not really looking at life.’ We’re like, ‘Oh no, life is out there — we look at it. Believe me, we’ve all seen some things.’ You don’t get past the age of 30 or 40 without having had some bleak moments in your life. Writing is a place you can turn to and say, ‘Yeah, but what if we could make that feel good and then at the end everyone’s happy? That would be fun.’”
When these siblings first started writing together, Molyneux-Logelin was still in college, while Molyneux was out of school. There are plenty of famous brother collaborators, directors like the Coens and the Russos, but there are fewer sister teams. You could chalk that up to a general sexism in the entertainment industry, where women struggle to gain a toehold in lots of different fields, but I was curious if they laid out any ground rules before they begin their creative partnership to avoid, as Molyneux puts it jokingly, “getting a sister divorce.”
“At the beginning, it was just a fun thing that we enjoyed doing together,” says Molyneux-Logelin. “As we got a little momentum and got a script on the Black List and then got staffed on a show, there were definitely times we had to work out kinks. You can’t work with anyone, I don’t think, and never have any times of a little bit of tension or a little bit of frustration. But in a way, it’s easier because we’re sisters. We’re never going to throw it all away and be like, ‘We’re never speaking again,’ because we then still have to go to Thanksgiving together.”
She laughs. “It would be awkward. We want to do this together because we’re people that like to spend time together. And we’re lucky: There are two other siblings in between us, so we didn’t have that time where we were both in high school or fighting over toys. We have that space — our dynamic just feels a little bit different than if you have a sibling that you’re one year apart from.”
Beyond simply liking each other’s company — although they both admit to being introverted — Molyneux-Logelin and Molyneux have occasionally found another advantage of working together: It automatically means they’re not the only woman in a writers’ room.
“At Bob’s, we never had that feeling of, ‘Oh shit, thank god someone has my back,’” Molyneux says, “because the working process truly from the beginning was incredibly fun, incredibly fulfilling. Loren and Jim (Dauterive) were ideal bosses for women to have. But when we sometimes do outside stuff, we have encountered some absolutely wild behavior. We did a roundtable-type punch-up thing once years and years ago where we went to the bathroom several times during the day. I’d be like, ‘Oh, I’m going to just run to the restroom…,’ and Lizzie would be like, ‘Yeah … we’re just going to take a break.’ And in the bathroom, we were like, ‘That guy is repeating our jokes moments after we say them and the room is not noticing!’ If I was there by myself, I might feel a little trampled by the end of the day, but because Lizzie’s there, literally if one of us even looks at the other one, we know, ‘Yeah, that’s happening.’ And that’s great, because that way you don’t gaslight yourself.”
Molyneux-Logelin laughs at the incident that her sister is describing: “Yeah, it’s very ‘Oh, we’re going to talk about this later.’”
They still have fond memories of being kids when their dad worked at RCA, bringing home “very early video discs” that had been discontinued. “What a treat to get 200 free movies,” Molyneux remembers. “There was early Monty Python stuff, all that stuff in there. I don’t think they even knew that any of us would go on to have a career in comedy, but in subtle ways they were probably pushing us in that direction — or at least we knew that would make them happy. And when there’s five kids, you’re always trying to do your tapdance to make them happy. They let us do a fun career.”
Old family anecdotes have occasionally popped up in their writing. In “The Kids Run Away,” a Season Four episode of Bob’s Burgers, a line of Louise’s was inspired by an incident in which Molyneux-Logelin and Molyneux’s sister Maggie ran away… to the driveway. “She didn’t really run away from home,” Molyneux says, chuckling. “She was quite little. But our mom kept this note for decades and then showed it to us that Maggie had written that she was running away. At the very end she wrote, ‘I guess things just don’t work out sometimes’ — she was only seven or eight, but it was as if she was smoking a cigarette, looking out her window in Paris.”
This long-ago story still makes the two of them laugh. “I don’t think anyone’s ever minded,” Molyneux says of the childhood stories that have found their way into Bob’s Burgers. “We haven’t told any family secrets. We haven’t used our medium to call anyone out. Not yet — this is us officially putting everyone on notice.”
When The Great North premiered in 2021, it gave the Molyneux sisters their first opportunity to be showrunners, a daunting task for anyone, although they’d been lucky to work closely with Bouchard (who’s an executive producer) all those years on Bob’s Burgers to understand the nuts and bolts of overseeing a series. Still, Molyneux-Logelin admits, “It’s just so much to take in and to learn. Just the pressure of creating an entire world, it’s a little overwhelming. But we love working in TV — we love working in animation — so we were able to get through the first couple years.”
“It’s just been learning as we go,” says Molyneux. “I think there’s a certain kind of — and not everyone experiences it — but female training of, ‘Oh, am I allowed to assert myself? Am I allowed to say my real opinion? Am I allowed to be forthright?’ Part of it for me was just learning to be more forthright, more direct. It wasn’t necessarily an aspect of my personality that was always at the fore.”
COVID provided its own complications, of course, but so did Molyneux’s pregnancy. “I had a baby and had severe postpartum anxiety, which was folded into the first year,” she says. “I don’t mind talking about that, because that’s probably something a lot of women at work — whether they’re at the top or in the middle or just getting into the industry — might experience.” During that tough time, she felt extremely lucky she had her sister by her side. “You talk about the got-your-back factor, I was working and being functional, but you know in Toy Story 3 there’s the monkey that plays the symbols to alert them of trouble? That guy was in my brain for a year, so having a creative partner was helpful.”
The People We Hate at the Wedding represents their first foray as a team into live-action and feature-length projects, but it won’t be the last. In 2020, they came aboard Deadpool 3 — they’re no longer involved in the project and can’t talk about it, although we’ll always have this incredible tweet — but they have other ideas in the works.
As much as they love comedy, “we do like to do other genre stuff,” Molyneux says. “Not every movie that you write winds up coming out, but we have worked some in other genres, and it’s something that really interests us. We have a live-action TV project that’s a murder-mystery and that’s been really enjoyable — we like the conversational comedic style we try to put into that, too. But genre’s super-interesting to us. Can we take the sensibility that we have from Great North and Bob’s, and is there a sci-fi project out there for us? It’s always exciting to think about doing something a little different, too.”
Whatever the project, though, their writing process hasn’t changed over time, the two sisters passing the script back and forth over email. “One of us will start and write up to a certain point, do a couple of scenes, pass it to the other person, who kind of doubles back to that point,” explains Molyneux. One of the few advantages of the pandemic was that it taught them they could work over Zoom. “When we do that last pass we can sit sort of together, still in our own homes,” Molyneux-Logelin says, “because we’re kind of homebodies.”
They tell me that they’re not very territorial about having the other sister tinker with what they themselves wrote. “Almost all of our emails will say, ‘Here it is, change anything you want,’” Molyneux admits. “And then if somebody changes something that we feel really like, ‘Oh, you know what? I actually think it worked,’ we’ll bring it back up. But over the years, especially now that we run our own show, we’ve learned to let a lot of things go. We’ll say, ‘You know what? Let’s try it your way — if it doesn’t play, then I’ll lord it over you forever.’”
Molyneux quickly adds that she’s just kidding. Molyneux-Logelin’s amused reaction suggests Wendy didn’t need to add that disclaimer. You know how siblings are.